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4.7 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Two of Britain’s greatest actors stage Shakespeare’s greatest tragedy

A behind-the-scenes look at Shakespearean theatre

In 1988, rising star Kenneth Branagh tackled the role of Shakespeare’s prince of Denmark for the first time in his professional career under the guidance of celebrated actor Derek Jacobi, considered "the best Hamlet of his generation" (The New York Times). Narrated by Patrick Stewart, this hour-long film documents how these two intelligent, passionate men found new depths in Shakespeare’s classic drama.

Filmmakers Mark Olshaker and Larry Klein follow the company through four weeks of rehearsals, from the first read-throughs to opening night. Interviews with principal actors--as well as the set designer, costume supervisor, text advisor, and others--reveal how each member of the company meets the production’s challenges. In all, Discovering Hamlet offers an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at the process of staging Shakespeare’s most demanding tragedy.

An Emmy®-winning star of stage and screen, Derek Jacobi (I, Claudius) has played some of the Bard’s most challenging parts in his 50-year career, including Hamlet, Prospero, Macbeth, and Lear.

Four-time Oscar® nominee Kenneth Branagh is a versatile actor, director, and writer famed for bringing Shakespeare to the silver screen in Hamlet, Henry V, and other films.

The combined talents of British theater powerhouses Derek Jacobi and Kenneth Branagh give Discovering Hamlet plenty of star wattage. This DVD is partly a documentary of Jacobi's production of Shakespeare's classic tragedy Hamlet, starring Branagh, partly an examination of the play itself (perhaps the most famous and, some argue, greatest play in the English language), and partly a conversation about how theater comes to be--the choices an actor and director make to illuminate the inner life of a play. The intention is to avoid literary analysis, instead grappling with Hamlet as the production struggles to find its feet on the stage. Unfortunately, Branagh's Hamlet isn't all that good--he himself later called his performance "high on energy but low on subtlety"--and Jacobi, while a great actor, isn't the most articulate director (he comments, in an interview on the DVD, that he hasn't directed since). It's to the documentary's credit that it includes interviews with many other members of the cast, creating a multifaceted perspective on rehearsal. The DVD includes an entire second disc of interviews and rehearsal footage, including the full engaging interview with Sophie Thompson, who played Ophelia, and even footage from the cast party, where everyone gets drunk and sloppy. All in all, an intriguing glimpse into British theater life. --Bret Fetzer

Special Features

Exclusive interview with Derek Jacobi (34 min.)
Bonus disc with behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews, and extended production interviews with Jacobi (162 min.)
12-page viewer’s guide with an introduction by director Mark Olshaker, a history of the Renaissance Theatre Company, critical reactions to the production, and an article on Hamlet’s textual challenges
Hamlets Through the Ages profiles
cast biographies
Patrick Stewart biography
photo gallery
SDH subtitles

Product Details

  • Actors: Kenneth Branagh, Richard Clifford, Richard Easton, Derek Jacobi, Edward Jewesbury
  • Directors: Mark Olshaker
  • Writers: Mark Olshaker, William Shakespeare
  • Producers: Larry Klein
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo)
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Athena
  • DVD Release Date: February 1, 2011
  • Run Time: 53 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B004AV5GXG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #81,071 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)
  • Learn more about "DISCOVERING HAMLET" on IMDb

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: VHS Tape
For anyone interested in a behind the scenes look at how a play proceeds through production this video is for you. The Birmingham Repertory Theater is the setting for this production directed by Derek Jacobi with Kenneth Branagh taking the lead as Hamlet. Narration is provided by Patrick Stewart to guide viewers through the production process. Interspersed between scenes of the rehearsals are interviews with the various actors discussing their characters. I would have like a longer interview with the director, Derek Jacobi, discussing his vision of Hamlet but all in all this is quite a good video.
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Format: DVD
A team of renown Hamlets providing educational behind-the-opening-night reality of stage preparation. Excellence for that use. I have years of experience as set designer/construction/crew with community theater. This is an honest look, but on a professional level, the very best of Hamlet professionalism. It's Derek Jacobi's (Cadfael-a must view) 1st directing and Kenneth Branagh's (Henry V, Hamlet) first Hamlet acting, although he went on to win awards with his Directing/Lead/Writer of a DVD version of Hamlet-1996. What better teachers of Shakespeare? Try "Playing Shakespeare" on DVD for one.

This is a must for serious acting students. Footage is gleaned from 30+ hrs of footage made during the 4 weeks of prep for Hamlet. From the raw 1st read, through rehearsals & tech rehearsals, up to opening night prep; it's an in-depth behind-the-curtain look at theater never seen by most patrons. It's honest, it's with preparatory flaws, but yet it's 'grease-paint' excitement. Illuminating educational theater. A lesson, 1st time on DVD, for acting want-to-be's (or not to-be's). Sorry! :-)

There are other stars like Sophie (Emma's sis)Thompson. Narration is provided by Patrick Stewart. Performed in Birmingham, this pre-show footage gives a lot of tips and fun looks at building up to perfection in theater. Even a sword fight. All in 53 minutes. If that's not enough, there is huge elaboration on this with the first-time-seen 3+ hours of bonus. Subtitles included for the feature.
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
Nothing is so interesting as the actual process of creation leading to a final product, in this instance, the performance of Hamlet. With Discovering Hamlet, a documentary featuring a production staged at the Birmingham Rep Theatre Company and directed by the fine stage and film actor, Derek Jacobi, the performance highlights young Kenneth Branagh as Hamlet. Knowing that Branagh too would stage is own stunning full-length production of Hamlet on film, observing how the actor matured from this early performance is a unique opportunity for comparison with his latter work also with Jacobi in the role of Claudius.
Following Jacobi as he shapes actor's performances and staging for the play, this video is privy to insight from technical staff as well. Narrated by Patrick Stewart and featuring actors who graced stage and films familiar to audiences, the construction of Shakespeare's tragedy is worthy of several viewings. While Jacobi differs from the more traditional interpretation of Hamlet's "To Be or Not to Be" soliloquy as a speech between Hamlet and Ophelia, the complex staging is Jacobi's own and unfortunately not alotted more time. Although brief in length, the production is filmed from first rehersal to opening night jitters. A new documentry could be titled "Critiquing Branagh" whose performances are faulted today, but in this setting, the actor is still fresh and vunerable to his director's insights to the lead actor's faults.
An excellent opportunity for students of film and performance studies to see process, it is worth purchase if only to have a record of one of Branagh's early stage performances before he became a film star. It would be interesting to haveJacobi's production restaged based on this film for another perspective on the never dull Shakespearean masterpiece of The Tragedy of Hamlet.
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Format: VHS Tape Verified Purchase
This documentary is a great overview not only of 'Hamlet', but the dedication and commitment it takes to 'put on a show'. This production, performed in Birmingham, England and directed by Derek Jacobi, showcases a young Kenneth Branagh in his first professional attempt at the role. From the first rehearsals, to fight scenes, to interviews with all involved, to the director's notes (a good scene where Branagh is picked on a little by Jacobi), to the eventual performance, this is an excellent primer for what it takes to do this complex play live. Worth watching.
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Format: DVD
In 1996, Kenneth Branagh gave us the screen's first complete Hamlet, uncut and as Shakespeare wrote it. The actor had some solid warm-ups, with cinematic portrayals of Iago (Othello, 1995), Benedict (Much Ado about Nothing,1993) and Henry V (1989).
Then Hamlet came along, a landmark in bringing the Bard to the big screen.
Yet this wasn't Branagh's first brush with the melancholy Great Dane.
In 1988, Branagh's theatre company, The Renaissance, had hired Derek Jacobi (dubbed "the best Hamlet of his generation" by The New York Times), to make his directorial debut with this timeless classic in which Branagh starred. We are lucky enough that filmmakers Mark Olshaker and Larry Klein were there from the first reading to the rehearsals to opening night, lucky that Patrick Stewart agreed to narrate and luckier still to have Acorn Media Group's Athena finally release Discovering Hamlet on DVD . . . with enough bonuses to bring a smile to the unhappy Prince's face.
There are lengthy cast and crew interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and wonderful interviews with Jacobi, at once elfin, informative and fascinating as he discusses the trials and tribulations of live performances. Including a twelve page viewer's guide and a history of Hamlets through the ages, this two-disc treasure illustrates the path taken as the torch is passed from generation to generation of brilliant actors playing arguably the greatest part in the English language. From Bard-O-Philes to gross amateurs, Discovering Hamlet belongs on everyone's shelf of great DVDs about great theatre.
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